Maritime Moustaches

Able Seaman Thomas Fleming Walker in the uniform of the New South Wales Naval Brigade circa 1900. ANMM Collection 00054875. Gift from John Walker.

Able Seaman Thomas Fleming Walker in the uniform of the New South Wales Naval Brigade circa 1900. ANMM Collection 00054875. Gift from John Walker.

Moustaches were big in the late 19th century. Really big.

As the wielder of a reasonably large moustache, I thought I might look into the museum’s collection of photographs and see how many and what sorts of moustaches are there. My hunch was correct – there are hundreds and hundreds of them. From nice thick ‘chevrons’, to the simple ‘English style’, to the classic ‘handlebar’ and even a few ‘walrus’ and ‘toothbrushes’. So I thought I would create a display of Maritime Moustaches in time for that important event every year – Movember!

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Gervais Purcell: hats, photography and fashion of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s

Gervais Purcell - model in beach hat

Woman modelling a hat, Gervais Purcell 1949

Cock your hat.
An angle is an attitude

– Frank Sinatra

Its hat week this week – for myself it’s an excuse to kit up for winter but among the vast collection of images by respected Australian commercial photographer Gervais Purcell the hats are generally more about form than function.

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Japanese flapper lands on Australian shores!

Kono San at a Movietone event on board SS Sierra, 8 August 1929 Samuel J Hood Studio ANMM Collection

Kono San at a Movietone event on board SS Sierra, 8 August 1929
Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

I am constantly amazed at the array of discoveries that are being made in the Australian National Maritime Museum’s collection. Some of them are just what you might expect from a maritime history collection, and others are just downright unusual. Until recently, the above photograph was catalogued as ‘unidentified Japanese woman’ posing on board the San Franciscan liner SS Sierra at an event celebrating the arrival of Australia’s first Movietone News truck on 8 August 1929. However, as one of our Flickr Commons followers demonstrated, Sydney photographer Samuel J Hood photographed his fair share of interesting characters from far away shores. Continue reading

Exposed! The Gervaise Purcell Collection

In 2008 while researching and developing the museum’s travelling exhibition Exposed! The story of Swimwear, I was contacted by Leigh Purcell, the son of respected Australian commercial photographer Gervaise Purcell (1919 – 1999). His work from the late 1940s covered a variety of fashion and maritime related subjects for clients including retailing giants David Jones and Hordern Bros, radio technology manufacturer Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA), swimwear manufacturer Jantzen, tourism operator Ansett Airways, and cruise ship operators P&O.

Photo of lady in one piece swim suit on beach

Fashion shoot for Jantzen fashion shoot with Beverley Evans at Kurnell, Sydney, 1957. ANMM Collection. Reproduced courtesy Leigh Purcell

Photo of two men and one woman at table on cruise liner

Fashion shoot for Jantzen fashion on Matson liner SS Monterey, 1957.
ANMM Collection. Reproduced courtesy Leigh Purcell

Leigh told me he still had his father’s Graflex Crown Graphic camera, camera accessories and a box of negatives including some from swimwear fashion shoots in the 1950s. I jumped at the chance to see his father’s commercial work and so we met at the museum’s photography studio to view the negatives.  Leigh kindly allowed our photographer Andrew Frolows to digitally scan a selection of the negatives into positives. This process revealed arresting fashion images that were clearly perfect for inclusion in the museum’s swimwear exhibition.  I was hooked.

Discussions were soon underway to borrow Gervaise Purcell’s photographic equipment and a selection of images for display.

Exhibition view of Gervaise Purcell display

Exhibition view of Gervaise Purcell display in Exposed! The Story of Swimwear at the Australian National Maritime Museum 2009. Photographer Andrew Frolows ANMM.

At the time I hoped that the museum would eventually acquire this rich and diverse photographic archive as much of Purcell’s commercial photographs had not been seen publically for decades and were a valuable record of Australian maritime related business ventures in the second half of the twentieth century.

In the intervening years I kept in touch with Leigh and to my delight in 2012 he offered his father’s photographic negatives and equipment to the museum. I wrote a proposal to acquire this material into the National Maritime Collection which was thankfully approved.  First hurdle leapt.

Now the substantial and exacting task of documenting and scanning the collection of 3,000 negatives is underway.  Our registrar Tennille Noach is bringing the collection to light so you can enjoy these evocative photographs as much as we both do. Look out for Tennile’s upcoming blog post about this fabulous photographic collection.

Penny Cuthbert
Curator Sport and Leisure History

Happy 100th birthday Carl Halvorsen

Today is the 100th birthday of one of the museum’s oldest friends – in several senses. Happy birthday to Carl Halvorsen, of the famous Halvorsen boatbuilding dynasty.

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Luxury yacht, Hiawatha 1938. ANMM Lars and Harold Halvorsen Collection

The Halvorsen name is best known for the elegant pleasure cruisers that the family designed and built in their Sydney boatyards, and for the fleet of Halvorsen hire boats that operated on Pittwater and the Hawkesbury River for many decades, providing happy holiday memories for countless families.

Carl Halvorsen was born on 9 July 1912 in Helle, Norway, into a line of shipwrights and seafarers. He migrated to Australia 1924 with his father Lars, mother Bergithe, four brothers and two sisters. All of them went to work in the family boatbuilding business that would become synonymous with quality and style, producing countless yachts, cruisers and work boats over many decades, including hundreds of military craft during WW2.

Archive photo of Carl Halvorsen with goup of glamorous ladies on board a luxury cruiser

Carl Halvorsen famously marketed his luxury motor cruisers to Hollywood celebrities in the USA. ANMM Lars and Harold Halvorsen Collection

Carl’s working life was spent with the firm, including a period marketing its luxury motor cruisers to Hollywood celebrities in the USA. He married Glenagh Brown and enjoyed a long happy family life with their daughter Verity. At the age of 76 he hand-crafted the masts and spars for the museum’s historic yacht Kathleen Gillett, a Norwegian design that was in the first-ever Sydney Hobart race in 1945, and was restored as Norway’s Bicentennial Gift to Australia in 1988. Carl was a successful yacht racer who skippered 5.5s well into his 90s, after winning RPAYC’s Division 1 series aged 89.

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Plan cruiser, Pollyanna 1933. ANMM Lars and Harold Halvorsen Collection

This great Norwegian boatbuilding family’s heritage – and that of its centenarian, Carl Halvorsen – is preserved at the museum in the Lars and Harold Halvorsen Collection, named after Carl’s father and elder brother. This collection contains a treasure trove of design drawings and photographs of the family’s enormous Australian output, as well as shipwright tools and other memorabilia. The family story was told in our 2004-05 museum exhibition Dream Boats and Work Boats – the Halvorsen Story.

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Carl Halvorsen (right) with his siblings at opening of Halvorsen exhibition, 2004

– Jeffrey Mellefont, Publications manager

Fashions on the harbour: Fox furs and cloche hats

Woman posing on board HNLMS Java
Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

Object of the week has taken a different direction this week – it’s all about vintage fashion. The museum’s Samuel J Hood collection has been a pleasure to investigate and research. So I found myself mesmerised when I came across these beautiful photographs, shot during the Japanese, Dutch and Chilean naval visits to Sydney Harbour in 1924, 1930 and 1931. Placed within the context of newspaper reports, these stylish ladies symbolise the excitement and attraction that surrounded foreign visits to Australia. They form a part of the vibrant social and cultural fabric of 1920s and 1930s Sydney and display the elements that made the harbour the tourist destination it is today.

Tennis party at Victoria Barracks
Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

In 1924, Sydneysiders flocked to the harbour to welcome three armoured cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Naval Squadron, IJN Iwate, Asama and Yakumo. Led by Admiral Makoto Saito, Japanese sailors visited an array of local attractions including Taronga Zoo and the University of Sydney. A Japanese naval officer and two unidentified women are pictured here at a tennis party, which was held on the morning of 26 January at Victoria Barracks in Paddington. Other social events were held at Government House and historic Rowe Street, the bohemian, avant-garde centre of Sydney. The Sydney Morning Herald provided detailed fashion reports, of a ‘three-piece suit of beige silk crepe’, the ‘frock of mole cashmere de soie’ and ‘golden brown lace…embroidered with tortoise-shell beads’.

The visit of the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1930 attracted similar public interest. The light cruisers HNLMS Java, Eversten and De Ruyter moored at West Circular Quay amidst the excitement of the nearly completed Sydney Harbour Bridge. Officers and ratings were granted free transport on Sydney trams and ferries and free entry to theatres. Luncheons and dinners were hosted in their honour, again in Rowe Street’s trendy clubs and function rooms. As with the Japanese navy, Hood was where the action was and often focussed on the social elements of the visit. He shot a series of photographs of women posing on board the Dutch vessels and took spectacular night views of the ships moored at the wharf.

Mrs Elsa Evans on the deck of HNLMS Java
Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

In July 1931, the Armada de Chile visited Sydney in its corvette, General Baquedano. Commanded by Captain Luis Alvarez, his crew consisted of seventeen officers, three sub-officers and 292 men. The ship moored at East Circular Quay and, like the Japanese and Dutch visits, the Chileans attracted significant public interest and their daily activities were reported in the SMH. The crew placed a wreath at the Martin Place cenotaph and opened their vessel to the public. The squadron’s eventual departure from Sydney Harbour two weeks later was quite a dramatic event, with one rating attempting to desert ship and swim ashore! He was eventually returned to the vessel in a rowing boat before it left Sydney for New Zealand.

On board General Baquedano at Circular Quay
Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

These photographs, and the newspaper reports of the time, highlight the attention and excitement that surrounded foreign naval visits to Sydney’s shores. They also demonstrate how Hood’s status as a brilliant photojournalist rested in his aesthetic sensibility and artistic vision. He clearly had an eye for detail, but these images are more than just pretty snapshots of fashion-savvy ladies. They inspire the viewer with a sense of nostalgic wonder; and though it’s a romantic view, they encourage us to contemplate the stories behind these faces. These images visually express how Sydney society was shaped by these visits and defined by its irresistible harbourside charm.

Next week, my colleague Penny Hyde will bring you another fashion-focussed post, so watch this space.

Nicole Cama
Curatorial assistant

Turning around – 10 – 11 April

Emergency medivac by helicopter, seen from the Lido Deck on the Balmoral

All seemed well as we sailed from Cobh on the 8th, although there were more than a few green gills around the vessel the next morning and suggestions from the Bridge that the weather was unlikely to improve until tonight were not greeted with joy.

Then an unexpected annoucement from the Captain – due to a medical emergency, the Balmoral would be turning back in the direction of Ireland to meet a rescue helicopted sent out to evacuate a passenger. There was a universal understanding that such things have to be accommodated, and as we watched the individual concerned winched to the helicopter by a very accomplished rescue team we could only wish the man the best.

Then back on track again with assurances that we’d still make the wrecksite in time for the anniversary.

There has been the odd muttering about the voyage being accident prone (late depature from Southampton and now this incident), but that’s all part of a crossing. Certainly the crew are managing everything with great aplomb and efficiency.

In the meantime, my days on board have been occupied with lectures, enjoying the food (last night’s Titanic dish was baked haddock with sharp sauce – very tasty) and talking to other Titanic researchers and enthusiasts. I finally had the opportunity to meet  Alan Hustak, the very courtly and interesting author of several works about the Canadians on board the Titanic.

It was a formal dinner tonight with the opportunity to wear 1912 costume. I picked something not stricly period detailed but more a gesture to the era with a gown done by a designer friend, Boudoir Queen, which used Victorian and Edwardian salvaged materials. Then after dinner there was more debate and discussion about various Titanic mysteries and controversies – always stimulating (so much so that it was well after 1.00 am before we all decanted ourselves off into our bunks.

I’m just debating taking a proper turn around the decks before lunch.

Formal dress evening - wearing a reworked Victorian/Edwardian gown with period appliques

Installation of Remembering Titanic – 100 years

Tomorrow our new exhibition Remembering Titanic – 100 years opens to the public and runs until 11 November this year. The exhibition marks the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of Titanic on 15 April 1912.

Over the past couple of weeks our exhibition team have been busy installing the show which features a memorial to the passengers who were on board the fateful voyage, models, memorabilia, and costumes from James Cameron’s movie Titanic (1997). There are many events planned throughout the exhibition, including a movie marathon on the anniversary day, so be sure to check out the event listing on our website.

Entry to Remembering Titanic - 100 years

Exhibition panel in Remembering Titanic - 100 years

Installing objects in Remembering Titanic - 100 years

Making final touches to Titanic movie costumes

View more exhibition installation photographs on our Flickr page.

Meet Inger Sheil, our in-house Titanic expert

Inger SheilMeet Inger Sheil, the personal assistant to the museum’s director and  Titanic researcher. Over the next week, Inger will recall an epic journey of discovery and research that’s occupied much of her life… We hope you enjoy.

Spending a childhood on Sydney’s northern beaches, the sea was a part of daily life. My grandmother shared my taste for documentaries, and together we’d watch Jacques Cousteau explore the world’s oceans. The first shipwreck I encountered on screen, however, was not the one that can lay claim to being the most infamous of all, but the more recent Andrea Dorea. As it lay in depths accessible to scuba divers, I watched in fascination as they explored the submerged wreck, and listened to the dramatic stories of survivors who described the terrible collision that sank her in 1956 off Nantucket, Massachusetts.

It was this human element that was to draw me to the Titanic some years later when I was introduced to the story of that great tragedy of the Belle Époque. A second-grade school friend showed me a book, and the outline of the famous story began to solidify for me – the lack of sufficient lifeboats, the ‘unsinkable’ reputation, the wealthy who were able to take lifeboat places when the third-class passengers could not. It would be many years before I found that the truth was not quite so simple, but the broad brushstrokes were there. Tucked into my childhood ephemera is a sketch I made in the journal I kept as a seven year old. Stick figures play out the story on a ship pitched at a dramatic 75 degrees to the sea’s surface, with terrified passengers and crew handing small children down to mothers in lifeboats. A sequel illustration of the scene ashore shows dripping survivors demanding their money back from ticket agents. Growing up, I picked up books on the subject where I could. I had just moved to Singapore when the Titanic was rediscovered in 1985. The challenges of a new school in a new country couldn’t compete with the fascination of the Time magazine cover painting of the lost ship on the ocean floor. With my interest reignited, I was able to locate such classics as Walter Lord’s vividly narrated A Night to Remember. But access to information was limited to some books and the occasional television program. No one in my immediate circle shared the fascination.

All this changed in 1996 when I first gained access to the internet. It enabled me to track down and order books and magazines on the subject from around the world, and to contact other enthusiasts. My bookshelf was soon creaking with the works of over 80 years of writing on the subject, and I became absorbed in online discussions about every aspect of the ship, from the minutiae of the lives of those connected with it to the placement of its rivets.

In fact it was the social history that most interested me. It was not so much the passengers – that cross-section of Edwardian British and American society along with immigrants from around the globe – but rather her crew that drew me in. These were the men and women for whom Titanic wasn’t a means of flitting from one continent to the other or a vehicle to a new life in a foreign land, but a career and a way of life on the sea.

– Inger Sheil